5 Beliefs That Impact Your Creativity — And Some Facts To Back Them Up
Creativity is the energy of change, and the big question of our lives is how to tap into it, because change is unceasing and can throw a curve to predicted outcomes of our best efforts. Even change that we choose or aspire to can feel threatening and emotionally-charged. We all share the challenge of navigating this sea of continuous change at an ever-increasing pace but not everyone is sold on the idea that we all share the capacity to be creative, which is the unique and powerful province of uncertainty and risk. Adopting these 5 beliefs about creativity can help cultivate the mindset for applying it in real life situations.
1. You are a creative person. Creativity is the part of every human being that allows us to see situations from a new perspective, to solve a problem when the old ways are not working — like figuring out a way to get the baby to take their medicine, or how to talk to mom when her memory is failing. In The Courage To Create, psychologist and researcher Rollo May describe creativity as “the process of bringing something new into being. It brings to our awareness what was previously hidden and points to new life.” And the belief about creativity as an inner strength that anyone can tap into may be enough to activate its power.
In a study published in the journal Psychological Science research subjects who stated they believe in the existence of luck were primed to believe they were being given the “lucky putter” in a golf-related task. These individuals performed better on the task than the control groups who did not believe in luck or were not primed to think they had the upper hand going into the task. The researchers based this study on previous work showing that “people’s belief in their capabilities to succeed in a particular situation may play a central role in turning seemingly irrational superstitious thoughts into directly observable performance benefits.”
The research demonstrates that we can choose our attitude toward change and about what it means to fail or succeed. And that if we believe we can learn something new or develop a skill set that is needed to realize a goal, we will be more likely to stick with the process until we have mastered it. Other studies show that belief is related to the sense of self-empowerment, optimism, hope and confidence. Quoting the Psychological Science article: “The more people believe in good luck, the more optimistic, hopeful, and confident they tend to be. On the performance side, it is well established that next to existing abilities and skills, one of the most important and consistent predictors of people’s performance is their perceived self-efficacy. The more confidence people have in their abilities to master a given task, the better they perform.”
2. Creativity is the ability to adapt and grow. Creativity is like the “push” within a seed that propels it to form roots growing downward and tiny shoots that grow upward with enough force to defy gravity and break through the ground. It is the unseen current within all life that turns acorns into oaks. And in our own lives and inner selves, that “push” is the creative energy that human beings can direct toward realizing dreams, growing into more evolved versions of ourselves and flowing with the changes we cannot control. The relationship between change and the creative force is, perhaps, best understood by looking at nature where change is continuous and unstoppable. For a cell, it is either change or die. A naturally-occurring enzyme within the cell facilitates a series of stages that results in transformation, and the process itself liberates energy at specific points, which is then available for use in other pathways.
The same is true for human beings. Creativity is a kind of spiritual “enzyme” that drives the ongoing change process. The “push” from within is the natural tendency toward growth and expansion, and our conscious choices determine the direction that change will take. Just as in nature, the process itself frees energy along the way. In this way, creativity can unleash new possibilities over the entire course of life.
3. Discomfort is an important feeling. Structure and predictability produce mental patterns that streamline our thinking process and save us from having to relearn the same things over and over. Disruption to these patterns can be tough, even painful depending on the cause, because they are protected by an arsenal of defenses that can trigger intense emotional reactions when challenged. Discomfort can be an important signal that we have pushed past a boundary and are truly entering the unfamiliar, which means we are on the pathway to important change.
“The secret is just to say ‘Yes!’ and jump off from here. Then there is no problem. It means to be yourself in the present moment, always yourself, without sticking to an old self. You forget all about yourself and are refreshed. You are a new self, and before that self becomes an old self, you say ‘Yes! and you walk to the kitchen for breakfast. So the point of each moment is to forget the point and extend your practice.” Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
To keep up in our technology-driven, networked world is especially stressful for adults living through many dramatic transitions in the way things work over the last 30 years. It often requires what can be a difficult, and emotional, kind of surrender to conditions and rules that feel unsafe because they are so unlike the old ones. “As new challenges occur, an adult learner is forced to sharpen and renew their skills,” write education researchers Shuck, Albornoz and Winberg in their article “Emotions and Their Effect On Adult Learning: A Constructivist Perspective.” “Leaving old knowledge behind implies not only cognitive transformation, but also an emotional transformation to accept changes, differences, and most fearful, uncertainty.” A psychological shift can and will occur when we can tolerate the discomfort long enough for the new patterns to gain traction. The old ways put up a fight, but even the most entrenched, automatic and change-resistant habits of mind can be redirected with self-awareness and practice.
4. Belief in our own creative capacity grows through developing skills over time.
Believing that we can control outcomes is self-defeating because there are so many external forces with which we must interact in a complex world. A creative mindset aims at a vision or goal knowing that the process of realizing it may have unexpected twists that take us in a new — sometimes better, sometimes just unavoidable — direction. The sense of threat that comes with great uncertainty is best addressed with an abundance of skill, and focusing on getting better at specific skills not only absorbs and engages with anxiety about the unknown, it actually reinforces our belief that creativity is a readily available resource. As Forbes contributor Bruce Kasanoff writes in his article “Why People (Incorrectly) Think They Are Not Creative” we often confuse creativity with craft: “Craft is how to do stuff. It is the byproduct of working hour after hour, week after week, year after year. Craft is something you acquire by learning a skill. If you want to develop your craft, put in your time.Creativity is the way in which we use our craft.”
It helps to think about the growth of new roles and habits the way an artist approaches a new piece by using existing skills and building on them. Put judgment to the side in order to experiment with novel ideas and try things out. Reflect on what does and does not work to advance toward the goal. Make discoveries and apply what is learned. This approach deals with the discomfort of change by fully engaging with it, and replaces self-judgment with self-awareness. As Kasanoff observes, “huge portions of the human race have untapped creativity. Combine them with people who possess craft, and then watch amazing innovations emerge. By the same token, if you take people who possess great craft and combine them with people from different backgrounds and perspectives, the same wonderful results will emerge.”
5. Effort and persistence are more important than talent or intelligence. Keep going.
The psychological “muscle” we need to grow and expand develops through repetition over time in the same way that a musician or dancer gains “muscle memory” that translates into the fluid movement through which artistic expression can flow. In her book Mindset: The Psychology Of Success Stanford University researcher Carol Dweck demonstrates that we can develop what she calls a “growth” mindset — centered in the belief that our most basic abilities can be enhanced through hard work and dedication, “that brains and talent are just the starting point.” Her work shows that even seemingly small social-psychological interventions that target limiting, self-negating thoughts and feelings can lead to deep, sustainable change. The repeated practice of new thinking, behaviors, or roles long enough for them to gain traction forms the basis of a new mindset that gives rise to a greater sense of self.
It helps to give ourselves small rewards, especially when going through those tough periods when intense effort does not seem to pay off, when it seems nothing is going to come of all our hard work. Cultivate an attitude of self-encouragement, and write down even tiny successes so they are consciously recognized. The momentum of the old can be very strong, and sometimes nothing but sheer commitment sustains movement in a new direction. This makes us agents of hope in our own lives and thus in the lives of others.
With communication at the speed of light and change playing out at ever-increasing tempos, the creative mindset is a foundation that expresses as the ability to learn, to adapt as circumstances shift, and to choose how we will experience and respond to events. We may not know exactly where things are headed, but we can be transformed into more evolved versions of ourselves by adopting the beliefs that form a creative mindset. And with that, increase our ability to shape our lives in the direction of our dreams.
Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, CGP, MT is a consultant/trainer and writer/performer. She is President of Lifestage, Inc, which offers professional and personal development workshops and classes and host/creator of (mostly) TRUE THINGS, a storytelling show that features true stories — with a twist. Follow her on Twitter @JuTrWolff